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Notes on The Memoirs of Cordell Hull
by William P. Meyers

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Introductory note: these notes were taken mainly as research on U.S. and Japanese relations. However, given Cordell Hull's role in American governance between 1900 and 1945, culmulating in his selection as Secretary of State under Franklin Delano Roosevelt, other topics of interest to me are noted as well. These notes are by no means definitive. Since they reflect his Memoirs, they also reflect Cordell Hull's biases, memory, and desire to portray himself in a positive light.

Source: The Memoirs of Cordell Hull
New York, The Macmillan Company, 1948
in 2 volumes

Page 1
Background and Schooling [1871-1891]

Cordell Hull was born on October 2, 1871, in Overton County, Tennessee, in the foothills of the Cumberland Mountains. His father William Hull had been shot in the face by pro-Union gunmen during the Civil War, but survived. After the war was over William hunted down and killed the man who shot him. He married Elizabeth Riley, Cordell's mother. William Hull eventually became relatively prosperous through illegal whiskey distilling, farming, cutting and selling timber, and running a small store. [p. 3-5]

In recounting the history of the area where he grew up, he states “To combat intolerable lawlessness Ku Klux Klan groups were formed, composed at first almost entirely of Confederate veterans in disguise. They had to take the law into their own hands. In the beginning their actions were beyond reproach. Then bad elements crept into the organization, the Confederate veterans left it, and it quickly fell into disrepute.” [7] However, he also states there was only one Negro in the entire county. Those citizens who had been pro-union became Republicans, but they were outnumbered in his county by those who had favored the Confederacy, who became Democrats.

Young Cordell worked on the farm, timber, and county store businesses, and got as much education as he could. He attended the local Baptist church. As he grew older he was increasingly sent further afield to take advantages of better schools. He became a debater, loved to read history books, and began giving political speeches as a teenager. Eventually he attended the National Normal University in Lebanon, Ohio. But his greatest interest was in the legal system. [16-22]

“Henry W. Blair introduced a bill for Federal aid to State education. That was the major issue in the 1886 campaign. I read about it avidly in the newspaper, and we discussed it among ourselves. The bill was considered to be an attempt to infringe on State Rights and to give the Federal Government power to go down into the States and interfere with their educational systems. The amount of Federal aid the Senator proposed was only nominal at that time, but the incident is illustrative of how serious such issues could be in those days.” [18]

In 1890, despite not being old enough to vote, he was selected by the Democrat Committee in Clay County to be chairman of their Executive Committee. He went around the county meeting voters. He says he developed his political philosophy based on Jefferson’s rhetoric, but did not mention slavery or racism. That same year he was a delegate to the statewide Democratic convention in Nashville. [24-25]

Becoming a lawyer in Tennessee was much easier then than now. He had already read a number of standard law books. In 1891 he spent less than 1 year at Cumberland Law School and was given a degree. There was no bar exam, he was simply enrolled in the bar by the judge sitting at a nearby courthouse. He returned to his county seat, Celina, to practice law with M. C. Sidwell. [26-27]

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